Australia stages huge 2nd-half comeback to beat Pumas 45-34

Australia's Reece Hodge, left, and Argentina's Gonzalo Bertranou scuffle for the ball during their Rugby Championship match in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)
Australia's David Pocock, center, runs with the ball during their Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)
Australia's Israel Folau, left, and Argentina's Emiliano Boffelli struggle for the ball in a line-out during their Rugby Championship match in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)
Argentina's Pablo Matera (6) can't stop Australia's Michael Hooper from scoring a try during their Rugby Championship match in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)
Australia's coach Michael Cheika listens to the anthems prior to a Rugby Championship rugby match against Argentina in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)
Argentina's captain Agustín Creevy sings his national anthem prior to a Rugby Championship match against Australia in Salta, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gonzalo Prados)

SALTA, Argentina — It was quite a halftime performance by Australia coach Michael Cheika.

Pumped up by Cheika's lengthy tirade after a woeful 40 minutes, the Wallabies stunned Argentina with five second-half tries to overcome a 31-7 halftime deficit and beat the Pumas 45-34 Saturday in the final match of the Rugby Championship.

Argentina had never scored 31 points against the Wallabies, let alone in one half.

An enraged Cheika was shown on television broadcasts screaming and pointing fingers menacingly at several players in the dressing room during halftime. Losers of eight of their last 10 tests, Cheika was trying to make sure it wasn't nine of 11.

"It's not really for public airing," Cheika said when asked about his halftime message. "But this game is personal, everything's got to have personal meaning. The first half it wasn't there.

"Once the lads got some meaning about what they wanted to do and some purpose, they played a heap better."

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said Cheika came through loud and clear.

"He had some pretty firm words there in the second half and, like I said, it was a choice for the players there," said Hooper, who scored a first-half try.

Rugby Australia said it was the biggest comeback involving southern hemisphere teams, improving on the 18 points that South Africa overcame to beat New Zealand in 1998.

It was only Australia's second win of the tournament and allowed the Wallabies to finish in third place instead of last, a spot that they seemed destined for after their inept first-half performance.

With the loss, Argentina finished in last place for the sixth time in seven years since the four-country tournament was established.

The win, which was likely to take the pressure off the embattled Cheika, should also allow the No. 7 Wallabies to stay ahead of Argentina in the world rankings.

It took Argentina less than two minutes for their first try, through Pablo Matera, and by the fifth minute the Pumas had another to Emiliano Boffelli. Hooper scored his converted try for Australia, but Argentina went to halftime with its 24-point lead after a brilliant solo run and try by substitute flyhalf Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias.

The Wallabies began their amazing comeback just three minutes into the second half with a try to Izack Rodda, followed by those to Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty. They took the lead for the first time — 35-34 — when David Pocock scored with 15 minutes remaining.

The Wallabies increased their lead to 42-34 with 13 minutes left on Haylett-Petty's second try of the night. Flyhalf Bernard Foley converted all six Wallaby tries and kicked a penalty goal to give Australia some breathing room with six minutes left.

"That old cliche, a game of two halves," Hooper told Fox Sports Australia. "We know we have some amazing attack in us and some really good defense to keep them out there for the second half."

Australia and Argentina finished with 2-4 records, but the Wallabies had nine competition points to the Pumas' eight thanks to a bonus point for losing by fewer than seven points to Argentina on the Gold Coast in September — 23-19.

New Zealand, which had already clinched the Rugby Championship title with a match to spare, beat second-place South Africa 32-30 earlier Saturday.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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